Allison Davis O'Keefe is a reporter for CBS News in Washington.
This morning I attended the unveiling of a note that Abraham Lincoln wrote on War Department (the predecessor to the modern day Department of Defense) letterhead to one of his Civil War generals. Historians knew that this note existed and have written about it in the course of progress of the Civil War but the discovery of the letter intact and in good condition was a "Woohoo!" moment for Civil War specialist Trevor Plante.
Plante was helping the Discovery Channel with a Civil War documentary set to air in the fall when he came across a piece of paper that seemed out of place. "I recognized the handwriting." Obviously Plante and the writings of Abraham Lincoln have spent many hours together. "I was surrounded by no one in this small dark room." It might have seemed anti-climatic at the time, but this morning Plante was all smiles as he carefully removed the acid-free protector covering Lincoln's note to a room full of cameras.
At the end of the press conference, we were allowed to come up to the table and see the letter up close. "Please keep a safe distance" said one document handler. "We don't want breath and drool on the original documents." No drool here. But it was close enough to take a long, good look at Lincoln's signature and exercise my true passion with a few quick photographs. Kneeling on the ornate rug in a room lit by chandelier, it was hard to ignore this a personal historical moment. History buff or not, staring at an aging piece of paper on which one of the most famous figures in history signed his name is pretty darn cool.
My husband proposed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial here in Washington. He says that not only is it is favorite monument, but that he admires President Lincoln for his honesty, truth, and decency. After today, I think my connection to the former President may have come full circle. Not only will I tell my children stories of Lincoln's decency and the midnight monument proposal, but I will tell the story of my brush with historical documentation, now tucked tightly in a vault for safe keeping ... and a picture to show for it.